|IN THE SPOTLIGHT|
First Look: Sony's "Blu-Wizard"
Thursday, November 9, 2006 at 3:32 PM ET
Next to picture quality, interactivity has been trumpeted as one of the key selling points of the next-gen disc formats. Unlike standard def DVD, both HD DVD and Blu-ray are capable of delivering truly interactive experiences.
And while HD DVD early adopters have been treated to interactive features in the form of Warner's "In-Movie Experience" and Universal's "U-Control" on select discs, Blu-ray has until now sat out the interactive supplements game.
That all changes next week with the release of 'Black Hawk Down,' Sony's second BD-50 disc release (following 'Click'), and the first Blu-ray disc to use the format's highly touted "Blu-Wizard" authoring environment, which Sony has said is capable of delivering an unprecedented level of interactivity.
So does Blu-Wizard live up to the hype? We got our hands on an advance copy of 'Black Hawk Down' on Blu-ray, and as Peter Bracke describes in this excerpt from his just-posted review of the disc, the technology is indeed pretty exciting:
The closest I can compare it to is Universal's "U-Control" feature on such recent HD DVD releases as 'The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift" and 'The Break-Up.' But Blu-Wizard adds a couple of new wrinkles that allow for an as-yet-unheard-of level of user customization and accessibility.
In a nutshell, Blu-Wizard is a way to create your own user-selected menu of a supplemental content, and customize how you watch it. You can also, of course, access all of a disc's extras the traditional way (select the "Special Features" submenu, etc.), but if you click one more spot to the right on the main menu and highlight "Blu-Wizard," you'll be greeted with a checklist of supplements. In the case of 'Black Hawk Down,' only the six chapters of feature-length documentary supplement are offered. Check off the chapters you want, hit "Playlist," and the material you selected will play in the order it appears on the list.
If this was all Blu-Wizard could do, it would simply be a high-tech chapter stop menu for supplements -- which admittedly would be cool to have in itself. However, Blu-Wizard also offers the ability to watch your "Playlist" as an extension of the feature film itself. From the Blu-Wizard, you can select to watch your Playlist with "Icon Notification" on or off. Very similar to standard-def DVD "branching" featurettes, as you watch the film it will "branch off" to your selected Playlist selections at pre-programmed points. If you have switched "Icon Notification" off, this will happen automatically; if you have switched it on, an icon will appear and you will have to then manually activate the content when alerted.
So, how does Blu-Wizard play? Very well. I tried 'Black Hawk Down' on two Samsung BD-P1000 Blu-ray players, one with and the other without the recent firmware upgrade, and I had zero problems accessing Blu-Wizard's features and functionality. Of course, interactivity is great as long as there is content there to back it up. To that end, 'Black Hawk Down's options are limited. I look forward to future titles that may offer Playlists that allow for not just featurettes but also commentaries, deleted scenes, and other supplemental content. Regardless, 'Black Hawk Down' is certainly a good first step.